T.F. Torrance (1913-2007) was a Scottish Reformed theologian, famous for his work on Patristic theology. Torrance’s The Trinitarian Faith is basically a Neo-Orthodox (or Barthian) reading of fourth century trinitarian theology held by orthodox Christianity at large (the ‘ancient catholic church’). The book has the character of a dogmatics as it deals with the Christian faith on the basis of each article of the Nicene creed from the perspective of those theologians who first formulated and defended it.
While Torrance’s take on especially Gregory of Nyssa may seem a bit lacking, he presents a strong reading of especially Athanasius, but also Gregory Nazianzen. In both cases Torrance shows how the gospel was at stake in their defense of Nicene trinitarian orthodoxy. Torrance clearly demonstrates the importance of the belief in the consubstantiality (the homoousia) of Christ with God the Father. It is God himself who comes to save us in Christ, as Athanasius affirmed in his book On the incarnation.
Moreover, Torrance stresses how the incarnation for 4th century theology meant that human nature as a whole comes to participate in Christ. As Gregory Nazianzen formulated it, only that which is assumed is saved. The unity of divine and human natures in Christ means that God participates in everything human, but also that humanity comes to participate in God. Jesus not only died for us in an extrinsic or forensic sense, but humanity as a whole died and rose with Christ.
To this degree, Torrance presents what he described as an ‘ontological’ model of the atonement, seeing that the cross of Christ affects us in our deepest and innermost being due to the unity of divine and human natures in Christ. That the atonement means an already realized reconciliation is a frequent theme in contemporary Neo-Orthodox theology (especially Barth’s Church Dogmatics), but Torrance shows how this theme was already present in Nicene theology making it truly ‘evangelical’.
“In the profound interaction between incarnation and atonement in Jesus, the blessed exchange it involved between the divine-human life of Jesus and mankind has the effect of finalising and sealing the ontological relations between every man and Jesus Christ. Thus ‘our resurrection’, as Athanasius once expressed it, ‘is stored up in the Cross.’ Through his penetration into the perverted structures of human existence he reversed the process of corruption and more than made good what had been destroyed, for he has now anchored human nature in his own crucified and risen being, freely giving it participation in the fullness of God’s grace and blessing embodied in him. Since he is the eternal Word of God by whom and through whom all things that are made are made, and in whom the whole universe of visible and invisible realities coheres and hangs together, and since in him divine and human natures are inseparably united, then the secret of every man, whether he believes it or not, is bound up with Jesus for it is in him that human contingent existence has been grounded and secured.” (p. 182-183)
Note: Unlike many other authors described on this site, Torrance was not a soteriological ‘universalist’, but his Neo-Orthodox reading of ancient sources is reminiscent of especially James Relly’s theology and as such at least compatible with the hope in a final salvation of all through Christ.
From the book description at Amazon:
“Cutting across the divide between East and West and between Catholic and Evangelical, Thomas F. Torrance illuminates our understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Torrance combines here the Gospel and a theology shaped by Karl Barth and the Church Fathers, and offers his readers a unique synthesis of the Nicene Creed.”